There is a line of demarcation that cannot be looked up in any reference book (ask your parents) or found by any Google search. We know it is there by what we’ve seen and how that image is imprinted on the lists we compile in our heads.
There are athletes who thrive in pressure situations and those who do not. Some wilt when the heat rises late in games and late in seasons. Some wipe off the sweat and stay cooler than the rest.
There is no more revealing petri-dish sample than the rigors of a postseason chase. Coaches say they are all big games, regardless of standings and playoff chances, but we all recognize there is big and there is bigger, and what awaits the Giants after Thanksgiving is bigger than anything they recently encountered during the holiday season.
“For me, it’s different being here the last three years in the situations that we’ve been in,’’ tight end Evan Engram said. “I know it’s different for a lot of the young guys that are here that are just coming into the league and getting their opportunity to play meaningful football.’’
Meaningful football is here. For these Giants, it is a journey into the unknown.
The last three years, the Giants after 10 games were 2-8, 3-7 and 2-8. Now tack on this season’s 3-7. So, there’s a symmetry to all this failure. There are differences, though, with the company the Giants keep. In 2017, the Eagles were 9-1 after 10 games. In 2018, the Cowboys led the division at 5-5. In 2019, it was the Cowboys, again, on top after 10 games, this time at 6-4.
The Giants were out of it in 2017 and 2019 and pretty much not actually in it in 2018, meaning those who survived all the turnover and remain on the roster know little, or nothing other than being out of contention around Thanksgiving. As Bob Dylan put it, “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.’’ For all the blathering about going week-to-week and building for the future, finishing 3-13 or 4-12 or 5-11 is a big deal to no one on the inside and vital only to those doing NFL draft bookkeeping.
All four teams in the NFC East after 10 games have three victories, which is pathetic and also nicely egalitarian. The only separator with this non-Fearsome Foursome is that the Eagles at 3-6-1 have a tie on their ledger, while the other three teams are 3-7. Somebody has to win the darn thing. The Giants have as good a chance and also as bad a chance as any in this Queasy Quartet.
After the late-afternoon game on Thanksgiving, either the Cowboys or Washington will have moved into first place. On Sunday, the Giants will claim a share of the lead if they beat the Bengals in Cincinnati. Monday night, the Eagles could surge back in front if they upset the Seahawks.
It could go on like this for the next six weeks. Are any of these teams capable of ripping off a mini winning streak? That is all it will take to gain the ignominy of capturing a division title despite being several notches below .500.
“In terms of football and football knowledge and awareness of the season and how it goes, people always say the real-est football is played around these months after Thanksgiving,’’ defensive lineman Leonard Williams said.
Williams has not been around much real-est football in his six-year NFL career. He went 10-6 with the Jets as a rookie in 2015 but that was not good enough to make the postseason.
“Since then, I haven’t really been close to going to the playoffs,’’ Williams said.
How will Williams react with this carrot placed in front of him? How about Engram? Daniel Jones after 10 games as a rookie was coming off a rough outing against the Jets and the only playoffs in his sphere of influence existed in anyone he knew involved in fantasy football. Draft classmate Darius Slayton a year ago was in the home stretch of a strong debut season knowing exactly when it would all end and he could head home.
What awaits the Giants — games with implications — is so new for so many of them.
“It’s definitely a unique opportunity,’’ Engram said. “It’s even more unique coming off a bye week and having that motivation and having that sense of urgency and opportunity that’s ahead of us is different.’’
Before long, we will find out if different for the Giants brings out the best in them, or the worst.